Friday, April 18, 2008

URGENT MUST-READ Message to Anyone Who Flies

"Anybody who messes with any of our new rookies out of the academy will be dead!"

It would be ludicrous for any Chief of Police to make such a comment, right? Well, it wasn't so comical to me when Kip Hawley, the Director of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was quoted as saying something darn close recently in a article by Chris Strohm.

First, I think I should give a quick history lesson. Don't worry, it won't take long.

The TSA was spun up by an overzealous, panicky government after 9/11. The knee-jerk reaction of a lot of government workers who didn't have a clue about the real threat of terrorism, would soon create an entity (none other than the TSA) that in many ways would become an unmanageable mess.

Just days after 9/11, an Israeli official lambasted the U.S. saying we didn't know anything about counter terrorism. President Bush was upset by that comment and asked for an official apology. And, perhaps rightly so, since he had stood on the rubble at ground zero and the last thing anyone would want to hear was a cruel remark. But, however undiplomatic the statement and the timing of it was, I'm reminded of the cliche', "sometimes the truth hurts."

Many thought airport security was bad before 9/11, but then the government got involved. Yikes! (This is where the Israelis were right.) The long lines, the frustrated travelers. Grandma was getting stripped-searched and fingernail clippers were banned. Shoot, a 12-year-old could do more damage with a No. 2 pencil.

Over time, if my memory serves me correctly, and it usually does except for when trying to remember my kids' birthdays, a policy was put in place that no more than two Arab-looking males could receive extra screening at one time because that would be "racial profiling." Meanwhile, a gray-haired Granny from Tulsa in her wheelchair was still being hassled. And knives, bullets and even a sword once were still getting past the "highly trained" airport security guards and onto the airplanes.

There were multiple TSA directors fired and replaced in a very short period of time. Sounds fishy, eh? Too, you might recall that several hundred thousand dollars was spent frivolously on plastic plants and art work in the TSA Headquarters Office near Washington DC. Our hard-earned tax dollars were spent well. (There's a vomit-like taste in my mouth.)

I would have as soon become a truck driver than battle the TSA Bologna and bureaucracy, but...

After 9/11, I lived and worked in Israel. The security at the airport there was exceptional. I never got hassled. I didn't have to take off my shoes or my belt, and the lines were fast. Instead of staying in Israel when the job offer came, still feeling quite patriotic and feeling that perhaps the federal government would be a good place for me to spend the next 20 years, I accepted a position as a Federal Air Marshal (FAM). As an undercover federal counter terrorism officer riding in U.S. comercial airplanes, I could help keep America safe.

It didn't take long to learn that the promises we were given weren't going to come to fruition. (No, you say, the government wouldn't lie, would they? I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news.) In addition, there were all kinds of weird things occurring, like one time at Dulles Airport where I had to allow an unarmed TSA security guard search my carry on bag. Go figure. I could carry a concealed gun, a bunch of ammo, and a knife or two on my person, but my bag had to be searched? It turned out there was a new guy in charge at that airport. Psst, I think he was a former Secret Service agent with Tom Quinn.

Anyway, the FAM motto "unseen, unheard and unafraid" would soon reveal just the opposite. The policies by Tom Quinn, the then-Director of the FAM Service, literally jeopardized the national security of America. After three years of personal disgust with the defunct agency, I had to resign. And, I wasn't alone. Several of us left.

A buddy of mine who was formerly with US Navy Special Warfare -- in other words he was a SEAL -- recently wrote to me and said he can't take much humiliation any longer. He wants out too. I can't blame him. It seems like lately I know more FORMER air marshals than actual working ones.

The lowering of standards on who the nascent agency chose to hire, and the shooting qualification standards among people who were literally called among "the best shooters in law enforcement", were questionable when I got there. (Note, I'm a Top Gun I can put my gun where my mouth is. ...Uh, that didn't sound quite right.)

Before I left, though, it got even worse. They started hiring Federal Air Marshals from within the TSA. Oh boy, did that ever start a stir. They wanted to hire -- and currently are hiring -- security guards from the airport who might not have ever carried a gun in their life!


The majority of those initially hired as FAMs were guys who had an incredible amount of law enforcement or special operations experience. (Shout Out: Hi Paul! Note: He and I were both SWAT Team Leaders who interviewed together. He's lucky he didn't take the job.)

Once word got out that the FAM Service was a dangerous and defunct organization, many qualified applicants refused to sign up. On the corollary, the pool of applicants who were standing near the x-ray machines at O'Hare or LAX would jump at the chance to carry a concealed weapon.

(Disclaimer: By no means am I suggesting that the airport screeners -- officially called Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) -- all have poor performance records, though many have been caught cheating on tests, sleeping on duty, etc. One person said TSA should really mean, Thousands Standing Around. I guess what I'm trying to say is that job doesn't exactly draw out the "best of the best.")

Whew! All that for this.

Here's a portion of the aforementioned Chris Strohm article, titled, "TSA Chief Kip Hawley Will Allow Air Marshal Whistleblowers to Speak with Lawmakers":

The head of the Transportation Security Administration Friday expressed complete confidence in the Federal Air Marshal Service and said he will let marshals speak freely to lawmakers.

"The air marshals are a critical part of the [Homeland Security] Department's capability. We are well staffed to cover the critical flights we need," TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said. "I feel highly confident -- as confident as anything that I've been exposed to in the government -- that this air marshal team is ready to go."

Controversy over the service was recently renewed when current and former marshals told CNN that less than 1 percent of commercial flights are being protected.

The air marshal service disputes the figure, but says the exact number is classified. Rank-and-file marshals have feuded with the service's leadership on and off since the service was expanded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks...

...Hawley defended the practice of allowing airport Transportation Security Officers -- formerly called screeners -- to become air marshals.

Some air marshals criticize the practice, arguing that TSOs do not have the necessary law enforcement background. According to TSA, 36 screeners have become air marshals.

"Trust me, you do not want to mess with those guys," Hawley said. "Anybody who messes with a flight having a TSO on it who is now an air marshal will be dead."

My response: Yeah, because they don't have enough real life experience to accurately judge shoot/no-shoot scenarios!

A CURRENT air marshal, P. Jeffrey Black, said of the comment:

Hawley should have been fired on the spot for making such an inflammatory remark publicly. What do you think would happen to any police chief who publicly said, "Anybody who messes with any of our new rookies out of the academy will be dead"!

Alas, every current and former Federal Air Marshal -- and all concerned citizens -- I urge you to contact your government representatives today. Now is your chance to be heard. Do it for the sake of U.S. national security, and for the safety of your family and mine.


Anonymous said...

As usual, my brother, your observations and comments are spot on. Its worse than you let on though. We recieve marginally trained/trainable people alot lately. "Good People" simply does not automatically translate to capable people. Questionable or zero weapons skills, Obesity, and or the absence of any tactically essential physical fitness plague roughly 20 % of even the veteran force. I'm being conservative here, trust me. And many of the rookies are kids who may have an education and NO usuable work experiance.
Besides its not just our mutual observation, I here it everyday from our fellow "force multipliers". The guys that are trained and experianced in identifying and grooming those with "potential and aptitude". They are as disgusted as many of us are, and grow more synical everyday as they hunt and wait for real leadership.

Yet we remain to take the fight to them, whenever and wherever we are called upon. Its the nature of the Citizen Warrior.
With Regards. Hannibal.

HappyBack said...

As an outside observer looking in, I share your disgust. I just wrote my own blog on the subject: